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Schools need more than money and curriculum

By Ian Dalton - posted Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Australian Curriculum is coming ever nearer to fruition and the Gonski report into the review of funding for schooling was recently handed down.

There appears to have been general acceptance that the Gonski report is comprehensive, the findings well thought through and that the general thrust of the recommendations could provide a useful framework for the development of a new funding model.

The Australian Parents Council (APC) has given in principle support to the future directions the review panel has proposed. That being said, there is a huge amount of detail to be worked through as the concepts and proposed structures contained in the report are fleshed out by working groups and confronted by the pragmatism of politics.


The report's Achilles heel is its dependence upon the Commonwealth and the states and territories coming to the table to engage positively and reach agreement upon jointly resourcing an agreed funding model for schooling. It is therefore important that everybody who has an interest in seeing school funding reform progressed takes what steps they can to ensure that state and territory governments are held accountable to participate actively and genuinely in the reform process.

The Review's recommendations should be approached with some caution at this early stage. Gonski estimates that an additional $5 billion plus will be required to implement the review panel's vision for the 3.5 million students attending Australian schools. This prediction was based on 2009 figures, so the actual cost will be much higher by the time a new model is introduced.

There is much testing needed of the data which underpinned the review's recommendations. It also has to be acknowledged that in the end any new funding model will be decided and implemented by governments and the Commonwealth has already indicated a priority for returning its budget to surplus over any increased spending.

Australian schooling history has no shortage of examples of proposals that were sound in theory but which, by the time they were implemented in ways that accommodated budgetary considerations and were subsequently reviewed and reshaped, all within the cauldron of politics and sectoral interests, ended up being compromised and demonised. The SES funding model is a classic example.

The model proposed by the review panel has two elements that the APC has welcomed:

· the strong recommendations relating to the funding needs of students with disabilities including those in Catholic and independent schools and


· the acknowledgement of family and community engagement as one of the five key strategies required to achieve greater equity and improved educational outcomes.

The latter acknowledgement by the Gonski panel is a timely reminder that funding and nationally consistent curriculum are not the only elements that determine schooling success. We must therefore ensure that other critical elements of school reform are addressed while the Australian Curriculum is bedded down and the Gonski proposals are worked through and negotiated into a legislative framework.

Parental engagement strategies are effective in improving student outcomes, especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and also bring wide and lasting benefits for parents and families, teachers, schools and the community.

Current schooling reform policies generally fail to fully recognise the capacity of the parent/family factor to improve the outcomes of schooling and it continues to be an area that is largely unacknowledged and very under-resourced. It is therefore a long awaited step forward that Mr Gonski and his panel have given this important area a legitimate place in the Australian school funding regime.

Recent research into parent engagement programs in Australia shows that such programs are not only effective in terms of student outcomes, but that the programs have wider and lasting benefits for parents, teachers and the community which feed directly into improvements in the life quality and economic wellbeing of individuals, the social capital of communities and the fortunes of the economy generally.

However, while parental engagement is evident in some worthwhile individual programs and projects throughout Australia now is the opportune time for policy makers to aspire to the systematic and sustainable integration of parental engagement into all aspects of the schooling reform agenda.

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About the Author

Ian Dalton is executive director of the Australian Parents Council, the national organisation that represents parents of students attending independent and Catholic schools. In this role he serves on a number of national schooling advisory groups and working parties.

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